AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS

Also available at http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/ambrose_letters_08_letters71_80.htm

AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS.

1.  You have heard, my son, the lesson of to-day in the Apostle, that the Law was our schoolmaster in Christ, that we might be justified by faith. And by this one text I believe that those questions are resolved, which are wont to perplex many. For there are those who say, Since God gave the Law to Moses, what is the reason that there are many things in the Law which now seem abrogated by the Gospel?’ And how can the Author of the two Testaments be one and the same, when that which was permitted in the Law, when the Gospel came, was permitted no longer? as for instance there is a circumcision of the body, which was even then only given for a sign, that the verity of spiritual circumcision might be preserved, yet why was it even given as a sign? Why was there such diversity, that then it was esteemed piety to be circumcised, but now it is judged to be impiety? Again it was ordered by the Law that the Sabbath day ought to be a holiday, so that if any one carried a bundle of sticks, he became guilty of death; but now we perceive that the same day is devoted to bearing burthens and to transacting business without any punishment. And there are many precepts of the Law which at the present time would seem to have ceased.

2.  Let us consider then what is the cause of this; for it was not without a purpose that the Apostle said, the Law was our schoolmaster in Christ 8. To whom does a schoolmaster belong, to one of riper years or to a youth? Doubtless to a youth or boy, that is, to one of infirm age. For a paedagogus, as the word is rendered in the Latin, is the teacher of a boy; and he cannot apply perfect precepts |438 to an imperfect age, because it cannot bear them. Again, the God of the Law says by the Prophet, I gave them also statutes that were not good, that is, not perfect. But the same God has preserved more perfect things for the Gospel, as He says, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil the Law.

3.  What then was the cause of this difference, but human diversity? He knew the Jews to be a stiff-necked people, prone to fall, base, inclined to unbelief, that heard with the ear but understood not, that saw with their eyes but perceived not, fickle with the instability of infancy, and heedless of commands; and therefore He applied the Law, as a Schoolmaster, to the unstable temper and impious mind of the people, and moderating the very precepts of the Law, He chose that one thing should be read, another understood; that thus the foolish man might at least keep what he was reading, and depart not from the prescript of the letter; while the wise should understand the sentiments of the Divine mind, which the letter did not alter; that the unwise man might keep the command of the Law, the prudent might observe the mystery. The Law therefore has the severity of the sword, as the schoolmaster holds the rod, that at any rate by the denunciation of punishment it may keep in awe the weakness of the imperfect people; but the Gospel has indulgence whereby sins are forgiven.

4.  Rightly therefore does Paul say that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.  For the letter circumcises a small portion of the body; the understanding spirit keeps the circumcision of the whole soul and body; that the superfluous parts being cut off, (for nothing is so superfluous as the vices of avarice, the sins of lust, which nature had not, but sin caused,) chastity might be observed, and frugality loved. The sign therefore is bodily circumcision, but the truth is spiritual circumcision, the one cuts off the member, the other cuts off sin. Nature has created nothing imperfect in man, nor has she commanded it to be taken away as if it were superfluous, but that they who cut off a part of their body might perceive that sins were much more to be cut off, and those members which led to offences were to |439 be retrenched, even though they were joined together by a certain unity of body, as it is written, If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee,for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. To the Jews then, as to children, are enjoined not complete precepts but partial ones, and, seeing that they were unable to keep the whole of their bodies clean, they were commanded to keep clean, as it were, one portion of it.

5. They were also commanded to keep the holiday of the Sabbath one day in the week, so as to be subjected to no burthen, and I would that being thus released from earthly works they had escaped, carrying with them to that perpetual sabbath of future ages the burthen of heavy crimes. But as God knew how prone to fall the people were, He enjoined a part upon the weaker by the observance of one day, He reserved the fulness for the stronger: the Synagogue observes the day, the Church immortality. In the Law therefore is a part, in the Gospel is perfection.

6. The people of the Jews are forbidden to carry sticks, that is, such things as are consumed by fire. He keeps in the shade, who flies from the sun. But to you the Sun of Righteousness suffers not the shade to be an hindrance, but pouring forth the full light of His grace says to you, Go, and sin no more. The follower of that eternal Sun says to you, Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. Wherefore let us build upon Christ, for Christ is our foundation, that which may not be burnt but purified. Gold is purified by fire, and so is silver.

7. You hear me speak of gold and silver, you think it to be the material substance, you desire to gather it, but you are losing your labour. This gold and silver brings burthen but no fruit. The toil of him who seeks it turns to the profit of his heir. This gold is burned like wood, not preserved; this silver will bring detriment not profit to your life in that day. Another kind of gold and silver is required |440 of you, that is, a good meaning, a word fitly spoken, of which God says that He gives vessels of gold and silver. Theses are the gifts of God. The words of the Lord are pure words; even as the silver which from the earth is tried and purified seven times in the fire. The grace of your understanding, the beauty of chaste discourse is required of you; the brightness of faith not the tinkling of silver. The one remains, the other perishes; the one has reward, and we carry it away with us, the other, which we leave behind, brings loss.

8.  If any rich man thinks that the gold and silver which he has hoarded and stored up can avail him for life, let him know that he carries an empty burthen, which the fire of judgment will consume. Leave here your burthens, ye rich men, that your burthen may not add fuel to the fire which is to come. If you will bestow some of these goods, your burthen will be diminished, and what remains will be no burthen. Lay not up wealth, O miser; lest you should become in mere name only a Christian, in work a Jew, perceiving that your burthens are a punishment to you. For it has been said to you, not in the shade but in the sun, If any man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward, if any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.

9.  And therefore, as a perfect man, taught in the Law, confirmed in the Gospel, receive the faith of both Testaments. For Blessed is he that sows beside all ivaters, that sends forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass, as we read to-day, that is, who sows upon the people who follow the doctrine of both Testaments; this is that ox of the plough, carrying the yoke of the Law, of which the Law says, Thou shall not muzzle the ox, when he treadeth out the corn; that ox which has the horns of the Divine Scriptures. But the foal of the ass the Lord rides upon, in the Gospel, representing the people of the Gentiles.

10.  But I think that since the word of God is rich in meanings, we ought also to understand that the ox has horns full of terror, the bull is fierce, the ass mild, and that this is fitly applied to our present purpose, for happy is he who observes both severity and mildness; that so by the one discipline may be maintained, while by the other innocence |441 may be cherished; for too great severity is wont by means of terror to tempt to falsehood. God prefers being loved to being feared; for the Lord exacts love, the servant fear, for terror cannot be perpetual in man, for it is written as we read to-day Behold, in your fear, they whom ye feared, shall fear.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I too love you.